For Ages
14 to 99

Sixteen years ago, six girls were born on the same day—and now, on their birthday, one of them is missing. From the author of Starlings comes a story about small-towns, friendships, and the terrifying things your parents don't tell you, that's perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

For most of her life, Isabeau and her five best friends were inseparable—amazingly enough, the six girls even shared a birthday. Then a rift caused their friendships to fracture, and Iz lost everyone except Reuel, the only one who didn’t abandon her.

Until now. The night of their sixteenth birthday, Isabeau leaves Reuel sitting on her front porch and heads home—and in the morning, Reuel is missing. She’s gone for two days, and when she reappears, there’s something wrong with her. She’s sick. Really sick. And she doesn’t remember anything that happened while she was gone.

If there’s any bright side to the situation, it’s that Reuel’s peculiar disappearance brings the six girls back together. Their sisterhood feels as strong as it was years ago, but when another one of them disappears, they all agree that they must have more in common than simply their birthday. They all feel it. Something’s been waiting for them, and that something has come to claim them one by one.

Deep in their bones, they know—it’s just a matter of time until they they’re all taken. And if they don’t save themselves, no one will.

An Excerpt fromSix of Sorrow

Chapter One

Sorrow was a witch.

Today is named for her--our whole town is named after her--but really, she’s just a convenient mythical excuse for people to get drunk and dance around on the beach. This morning I woke early, restless, like a kid waiting for Santa Claus, anticipating something special, something worth believing in. Except today isn’t Christmas, it’s the Day of Sorrow. It’s not the witch I care about--that’s only a story. It’s because today also happens to be my birthday, but I’m not excited about that. Not really.

It doesn’t feel like a birthday if we aren’t all together.

As I tug on my plaid skirt and white blouse, into the pinpoint-sharp corners of my memory comes a reel of celebrations: voices ringing out the birthday song, candles on giant cakes, laughter and gifts. Right now, hidden in the back corner of an old jewelry box, a silver spoon ring Georgina gave me--identical to the others. She and I don’t talk anymore, but I still have that damn ring. I have other things to remember her by--to remember all five of them by.

We used to be worth believing in.

I shake my head, pushing aside thoughts I don’t need to fixate on right now, and I find my tie, fighting the violent urge to fling it off my balcony instead of putting it on. As I loop it under the collar of my blouse, my phone dings. A text, from Reuel, my best friend.

Happy birthday!! Gonna be late I overslept and can’t find my stupid bloomers!!!

With a grin, I type back to her, go commando

The dots move, and up pops a sad emoji. A second later: okay if I just meet you there?

Dislike, I write, then add, jk yeah it’s fine happy birthday too xo

I set the phone on my faded patchwork quilt and finish getting ready for school, raking a hand through my blue waves. I pause in front of my cheap full-length mirror with the fake sunflowers Reuel and I hot-glued to the frame, and I slather on my favorite rum-raisin lipstick. My lips are pulled down, and I tug them up, my smile a shade too wide--a Julia Roberts mouth, my mama says. Just like hers.

Even when I’m relaxed, my face ends up moving into a crooked scowl, my eyes naturally narrowing, my mouth telling the world I’m a little bit angry, all the time, even when I don’t mean to be. I drop the smile. It is what it is.

I gather my phone and other things before slinging the straps of my bag over my shoulder; then I head downstairs, not bothering to be quiet in my clunky black loafers. I clomp down each step. So what if it wakes her?

In the kitchen, a small pang in my heart as I reach in the fridge to take out a store-brand string cheese and then an apple--red as blood--because just once, why can’t I come down to a dozen warm muffins? Some scrambled eggs and butter toast? Something? Anything?

She doesn’t know how to cook, she says. A flimsy excuse.

Because don’t I remember? Pots of soup and casseroles and cookies spread on a pan?

Once upon a time she took care of me. My belly aches with the memory. Or maybe it’s just my bad mood, drifting to my middle, pooling outward. It’s my fucking birthday, and my mother is here, but she’s not here. I shove the cheese in my bag and take a hostile bite of apple as I walk out of the house, banging the screen door behind me and entering the spring morning. I step down from the rickety porch with the peeling sage-colored paint. Leave our old farmhouse and eat my apple as I walk the gravel drive. Through the long stretch of green, green grass, my shoes going wet with dew, before I hit more houses. Through the cypress-thick park, where I chuck the core in a trash can; then I continue past Sorrow’s only cemetery, with Reuel’s home not far from it, but I don’t sidetrack to meet her like usual. This morning I’m on my own.

I swallow any sort of self-pity. I may be alone, in this moment, but I’m not alone. I have Reuel, and tonight while our town partakes in holiday traditions--lighting bonfires on the beach and burning wishes--we will ring in our sixteenth birthday together, the two of us.

As I march forward, my mood brightens at the prospect of a half day and then spring break. My wretched uniform doesn’t even bother me so much, when I know I can rip it off and change in just a few hours. Birds sing, and the morning air blows against my face, warm and damp, tasting of sunshine and fresh beginnings, and suddenly everything doesn’t seem so grim. Nearby, someone is mowing their lawn, the scent grassy, sharp--one of my favorites. I bypass the familiar but slightly longer route through downtown that Reuel and I usually take and go the quicker way. I’m not exactly running on time today, either.

When I reach the brick building of Our Lady of Sorrow High School, I ease past clusters of students lingering, friends walking together, conversation and excitement buzzing in the air--everyone is smiley and full of energy today--and I go in alone. I arrive at my ugly peach locker moments before the first-hour warning bell rings. As I’m putting my backpack inside, a leggy, black-haired girl comes tearing down the hall, pushing past the crush of people heading in the opposite direction, pom-poms clutched in one hand. Reuel. I can feel myself lighten at the sight of her. And when she spots me, she grins, like she feels the exact same way. We are each other’s safety. Sunshine. Home.

“Hi,” my best friend pants as she reaches me, her hair ribbons crooked. “Shit.”

“You’re late,” I warn her, glancing at the clock. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the locker room by now?”

“I made it on time. Pretty much. I’m only a little late.”

I snort, tugging at my maroon blazer, hating the itchy feel against my skin, against the back of my neck. “Put your stuff in my locker, then you don’t gotta run all the way upstairs.”

“Lifesaver.” Her smile is grateful as she dumps her bag into my locker, shoving it with her foot for good measure, her thick white sock scrunched lower than the other.

I give her cheerleading uniform the once-over. It looks like she just managed to throw it on about five minutes ago. When she bends forward to push her bag in farther, I grab the zipper of her shell, tugging to close the inch-long gap she missed. Her skin is like cream against the red.

Reuel scoots to make room for the freshman trying to get into her own locker beside me, and I ask, teasing, “Find your bloomers?”

She glances at the girl next to us, distracted with her belongings, then gives me a wicked grin and flashes her skirt up. Black undies, not the cheerleading bloomers she’s supposed to wear.

A laugh bubbles out of me, but it sounds strained. I close my locker door and spin the lock before tugging on her elbow. “Come on, we better hurry. Or you better.”

We speed-walk down the hall, and she asks, “What is it? Birthday stuff?” She knows me too well. I shrug and she says good-naturedly, “You better not be grumpy tonight. We’re not just gonna sit in my bedroom and watch Twilight for the millionth time. It’s not even that good.”

“Hello?” I raise my brows--Twilight’s one of our things. “Kristen Stewart makes it good?”

“Okay,” Reuel concedes as we jog the last stretch down the hall, carefully weaving around groups of students, teachers. “But, Iz, forget about them.” Them. She means the other four girls. She pauses just inside the entrance to the gym, and her voice goes softer. “We’re still here, aren’t we?”

I sigh, feeling like a brat. “Of course.”

“Good. And maybe I’ll get you to actually have fun tonight. I consider it my personal mission,” she says, walking backward toward the locker room, humbly laying a hand over her heart, her black, coffin-shaped nails dramatic against the deep-red fabric.

“Ha,” I say, giving in to her charms, nodding. “We’ll see.”

“It will be,” she insists, calling louder, over the din starting as the gym fills up. “And if you decide you wanna go track down a party, I’m sure we can find a dozen options.”

“Yeah! Party!” shouts some senior with big muscles and an even bigger voice. His friends cheer, they push each other rowdily. People will use any excuse to celebrate, including centuries-old mythology--not that I blame them. What else is there to do here?

I’m jostled by students trying to get to the bleachers but call good luck to Reuel.

She looks back with a bright smile and yells, “Thanks!” With that she runs off, headed toward the locker room door, where her coach is peeking out, frowning.

“Sorry!” Reuel tells the disapproving woman, and I shake my head fondly, turning away and to the bleachers. I follow the kid in front of me to a spot in the third row and sit, staring around, a little impressed. I think they went even more all-out than freshman year.

A high school gymnasium will always look slightly depressing, but ours has been strung with red streamers and filled with black balloons. The band is enthusiastically playing a Queen song and everyone filing in has a bounce in their step--the cheerleaders literally are bouncing now, as they run onto the sidelines into a two-row formation to warm up, Reuel last to hurry over, looking sheepish.

And of course, I can’t not see Georgina, skipping over to stand beside August. August, legs for days, deep terra-cotta skin, a sparkly bow perched atop her long twists. She could be a model--the next Naomi Campbell, who August used to be obsessed with--if she weren’t planning on being a doctor. Or maybe she isn’t planning on it anymore. I don’t know her now, do I?

As I watch the two of them moving to the front row of cheerleaders, all of them ready to pep-rally us into break, I catch myself digging my chipped jade-green nails into my palm. I purposely loosen my hands and exhale, finding Reuel’s face in the line. They’re not my friends anymore. But she is. She shakes one tinselly red-and-black-and-silver pom at me.

Smiling, I focus on Reuel, refusing to look at who is standing in front of her as they do their sideline routine, warming themselves up before the main event. Why would I? I know they won’t look at me.

Someone brushes against my side, and in the space left between me and some other sophomores down the bench, Bridger Leland plops down, grinning. “Hey.”

“Hey,” I say back at my classmate from art, smiling warmly. His black curls are slightly damp, a faint rosemary smell coming off him.

“Doing anything tonight?” he asks after a moment.

“Not really.” I shake my head. “I’m not big on bonfires.” My whole life, I’ve had an unexplainable fear of fires burning out of control, but I don’t tell him that.

His brown eyes are warm. Amused. “I mean for your birthday.”

My cheeks heat. I don’t like to make a big deal about it, now that we’re not the six of us any longer, and even before that . . . It is such an odd thing, even I can admit that, and I never loved the attention our day of birth drew to us. Besides, I always felt if we didn’t share a birthday, we’d be friends anyway, so why focus on that? Now? I realize that even that strange commonality wasn’t a strong enough bond to keep the six of us together. I fidget and pull my hair up into a messy bun, finally answer Bridger, “Reuel and I are hanging out, that’s it.”

She and a nonbinary junior twirl and position themselves back to back and start doing flawless toe touches to the beat. Reuel’s facing us, screaming for our school, our town, our legends. It was a surprise when she tried out, not at all that she made the squad. She looks bold and striking, the edge to her, the sarcastic curl of her cherry-red lips when she cheers, as if she somehow finds it all a great big joke but loves it anyway.

I cup my hands around my mouth and holler for them. Next to me, Bridger claps.

But thoughts about the other girls invade my mind. About today. About what we’ve lost. Georgina’s epic parties, always something amazing to commemorate our births. Sleepovers and spa days and all sorts of fun. Georgina will probably have a party tonight, under the guise of celebrating the Day of Sorrow or not. Of course, we won’t be invited. Georgina and August are friendly to Reuel, because of cheerleading, or at least they’re civil to her. Me? It’s like we’re strangers now. Like the six of us didn’t used to say we were all soul mates.

“What about you?” I ask, turning back to Bridger. His uniform tie is crooked, charmingly so. “Party or something?”

His dark-bronze cheeks crinkle with dimples when he smiles, ever easygoing. “Yeah. Going to the beach with Grady.”

Grady. I smile after a delayed moment. “Cool.”

“I like the blue.” He points to my hair, strands falling around my face. “That’s new, right? What’d you call it before?”

“Lavender? Light purple?” I hold back a laugh. For an artist this boy has a shit sense of color. “Thanks. What are you doing the rest of break?”

“Working at the garage.”

I nod. I don’t know Bridger that well, but I know some things. He’s liked trains since elementary school. He spent last summer in China, where his grandpa is from, and he’s also half Black. His dad has a garage where he works part-time, and his mom ran off when he was little. We have a-parent-ditched-us in common. Plus art. He’s more creative than me, though--I don’t even know where he gets his ideas sometimes.

Just as easily as he sat down, Bridger rises, shrugging. “I’ve seen enough. Gonna go work on my project.”

Smiling, I say, “See ya,” and watch him climb down the bleachers, slip out of the gym as if nobody else can see him or cares that he’s leaving. And it’s kinda like nobody can or does. Bridger helps in the office as an aide for a credit, so he’s one of the first people you see when you walk in this building, and our school’s not even that large--but there are still people who forget his name and face. Bridger could make a killing as a jewel thief or something, sneaking in and out of high-security places, unnoticed . . . if he didn’t have a moral compass pointed straight north, that is.